In addition to oversight of a corporate gym, my role has recently expanded to include driving the company’s nascent wellness program. In a nutshell, my job is to help improve employee work life, as well as reduce the company’s health care costs through fitness and wellness initiatives.

Health care costs are outpacing inflation, and companies are feeling the crunch. Considering that most illness is related to lifestyle factors, smart companies have begun to change their focus from co-pays, HMOs and PPOs to state-of-the-art fitness centers at the workplace; on-site health screenings, including blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, and BMI; health risk assessments, and comprehensive health programming. Instead of looking to cut costs once an employee is sick or injured, companies are making it easier for employees to stay healthy at work, avoiding the health care costs associated with a sedentary life, poor diet, stress and tobacco.

It is estimated that 15 percent of employees drive 85 percent of health care costs! But rather than emergency room visits, it’s high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, paving the path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes. Due to long and stress-filled days, people often don’t create time outside of work to get in enough activity. Couple that with poor eating and you have a cocktail for these diseases and their consequent costs. Moving from an acute-care approach to one of preventing chronic disease makes medical and financial sense.

It’s well established that employers can improve their bottom line by improving the health of their workforce. But there is another factor at play, called “presenteeism,” which describes the mental and/or physical capacities of workers on the job. Studies indicate that healthy eating and exercise bring dividends besides a slimmer waistline. People following a healthy lifestyle describe themselves as more alert, more productive, more energetic, clearer thinking and happier. We say they make better employees.

My client site in the Loop touts a 15K-square-foot, full-service gym, including classes such as yoga, Pilates, Spin, strength, kickboxing, cardio dance, step, and even the occasional country-western line-dancing or salsa lesson. Fitness assessments and exercise prescriptions are complimentary, as are informational sessions covering topics such as weight management and stress. This year, employees were given a free PTO day for participating in on-site health screenings and taking a health risk appraisal. Incentives have been shown to increase participation in these types of events and are a wise way for companies to increase participation. With the aggregate information we gathered from the data, we have developed a specific plan to improve the employees’ health and well being, improving their work life and lowering the company’s health care costs.

Steve Lilienthal is the CEO of the company whose programs I run and had this to say about why he implemented a fitness and wellness program at his company: “Attracting, motivating and retaining excellent employees are key components to the success of our company. Wellness programs have now become a cornerstone of this strategy by linking physical well being and professional performance, not to mention health care cost control. It is a simple and effective formula for success.”

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